Overtraining prevention measures

Imbalance of the training to recovery ratio (high training and competitions loads and not enough recovery) is the most important misstep towards reaching the state of overtraining. Recovery strategy, as the opposition to the high performance training strategy should be equally understood and applied as the part of the training process, rather then just considering it as a day off the practice. Recovery process is not that simple as it consists of many variables which should be constantly integrated and modified to respond to the demands of the constant changes in training stress levels.
Firstly, very important for the coach and the athlete is to understand and quantify the training load. As training load is not only related to the obvious measures, like drill duration or the area covered during the session, but about how does the athlete respond to the training stress. Athlete’s  response to the training session is the key for creating corresponding recovery strategies which would eventually prevent the chronic state of  overtraining and injury. The incidence of some illness and injuries was noted together with the indices of training load, monotony (in simple words, same/similar repeated high level training sessions followed by lowering attention and motivation levels of the athlete), and strain (product of the weekly training load and monotony). It is of importance that athletes keep the records of their daily training load using a training dairy or a log, which represent their subjective ratings of quality of sleep, fatigue, stress, muscle soreness, body mass, early morning heart rate, illness, menstruation and causes of stress. With the measures such are physiological and psychological screening of the athlete, RPE and POMS, the athlete and the coach can understand the individual perception of the training stress applied. Based on that level of stress, the appropriate recovery strategy can be applied to prevent the early signs of chronic fatigue and nonfunctional overreaching that leads eventually to the overtraining and months of recovery.

Training load is clearly not the most important part of the training to recovery imbalance ratio, as the athletes are failing to apply the recovery part efficiently into the training process. Two out of three strategies to reduce the risk of overtraining, which are presented below, are a part of the recovery process.

Strategies to reduce the risk of overtraining are:

1. Passive rest and sleepOne of the most obvious methods for managing the recovery is adequate rest and obtaining sufficient sleep. The quantity of rest needed is determined from the intensity and volume of training stress applied to the athlete. Usual recommendation is that athletes should have at least one passive rest day each week, as the recovery day, especially during intensified training periods, can reduce the onset of signs of overtraining. But, as every athlete is an individual that differently responds to the training stress, to successfully manage the recovery process, the athlete’s perception of the previous training sessions are needed to be understood and quantified. The resting period is not important only from the physiological but from the psychological standpoint as well. During the period of passive rest the athletes are distracted from the daily training routine. This may help athlete to reduce the stress perception of the training, establish again high levels of motivation, reduce boredom and training monotony.

Sleep is an essential part of recovery as chronic disturbances in sleep quality can negatively affect the quality of a training session and athlete’s well-being in general. Need for sleeping recovery is primary neurally based as sleeping restores the cognitive functions and therefore the abilities to concentrate and have a fully aware training session. Many of the research recommend enough sleeping hours so the athletes is feeling fully rest when woken, and adding one to two afternoon short napping session.

2. Nutrition – The high negative energy balance (imbalance between the intake of the energy and energy expenses) can increase the training stress maladaptive response leading eventually to the overtrained physiological state. Energy requirements of the athletes are increasing with the higher level of training to which the athletes are exposed on a daily bases. Growing large energy expenditure by athletes are not necessarily compensated by increase in food consumption, which leads to the negative energy balance. The most often reasons for the negative energy balance is that the athletes are not educated enough about the importance of nutrition in recovering the body tissues and functions.
Factors such are the insufficient carbohydrate and/or protein intake, iron, magnesium and vitamin D deficiency have been recognized as important contributors to overreaching and overtraining.

In combination with the repeated high intensity trainings, carbohydrate depletion can be very important element of development the overtraining syndrome.
Addition of protein to a carbohydrate meals has been reported to improve rate of glycogen synthesis and enhance exercise performance.
Furthermore protein has a protective role as the intake after the training decreases further post exercise tissue breakdown, repairs the damaged tissue and promotes muscle growth. To reduce the risk of developing overtraining syndrome during periods of intensive training, athletes should increase their carbohydrate, protein and fluid (dehydration can increase the levels of stress and energy imbalance) intake.

3. Practice variety/practicing with purposekeeping the athlete’s levels of motivation high and monotony low is the key concept of the training process. Understanding the training goal and benefits of it are the main characteristic of the cognitive practice. The main difference that the cognitive practice brings compared to the regular practice is that the athletes are fully involved into reaching the understandable and acceptable goals making the training purposeful. Having training with the purpose is a highly motivated training (intrinsic motivation), with the high level of awareness about the efforts needed to accomplish the understandable goals.
Designing the training manipulating with the environmental, unpredictable conditions demands the athlete’s technical and tactical awareness and situational adjustment responses.
The more the training demands are variable the faster a player learns to adapt. The combination of the predictable tactical routine with the unpredictable response, demands from athlete constant cognitive awareness and fast decision making response. These kind of training/simulated match situation demands more problem solving response from the player,  keeping the monotonous levels of training low. Coaches are obliged to introduce the psychological questionnaires into their practice tools as these are very important to understand and evaluate the emotional state of the athletes.

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